After I became the rector of Holy Family Cathedral, I read through the annals of the cathedral and learned how my predecessor, Fr. Heiring assembled parishioners of Holy Family Church to break the grounds for the Church that is now the cathedral. At that time, there were no trucks and tractors that hurled dirt or equipment to the work site. Much of the work was done with the aid of an instrument called yoke. What the yoke did was tie two animals together so that their combined strength could pull a wagon filled with dirt or stone or other heavy equipment that humans are incapable of pulling. In the plantations, though, it was the combined strength of slaves used as machines that pulled the plow. Hence, the word yoke symbolized and is associated with slavery and servitude. Many times in the Bible, the Jewish law would be referred to as a yoke. Yes, the law, any law, good or bad can be burdens to be endured.
Faced with all the yoke we bear in life, Jesus asks two things from us—to come to Him and to learn from Him. First is to come to Him; this is an invitation to prayer in which we lay our many burdens at the Lord’s feet. He asks us to bring our many yokes—the overpowering yoke of slavery to sin and death which the devil planted at the garden of Eden and deceived our first parents and us into bearing, the crushing yoke of indebtedness to the cravings of the flesh, the heavy and painful yoke of loneliness of minds wrapped in self-absorption, the pulverizing yoke of sickness, both mental and bodily, and the suffocating yoke of seeking relevance and solidarity with worldly cleverness and scientific progress, which seek to topple every residue of faith. Second, Jesus asks us to learn from Him as disciples. Disciple takes its root from the Latin “discipulis,” meaning both student and discipline. We can learn from Him to liberate ourselves from these yokes that suppress us so we may not resign to them. In this school of Jesus, we learn from Him how to develop the full potential of our souls rather than lock ourselves up in a world that cannot truly satisfy our longings. Learning from Him assures that the things that are overwhelming burdens for the so-called learned and clever in the world will become life-building for us, thanks to the action of His Spirit through which, according to St. Paul, we overcome all the deeds of flesh.
Finally, Jesus says He’ll partner with us in bearing our burdens. How sweet to have Him around at challenging times. The primary use of the yoke is to join two animals together so that no one animal pulls the plow or the wagon alone. The essence of the incarnation is this partnership between the Son of God and us in bearing our burdens. In this sense, the yoke doesn’t just connect two irrational beasts for the purpose of hurling dirt and stone and bricks. A new yoke fashioned by the Lord Himself joins us with Him to pull this wagon, which is all the troubles in our life. He made a definite promise at the Last Supper that, as long as we choose to partner with Him, He wouldn’t let us bear our burdens alone( (Jn 14:18). So, whose yoke do you prefer? -- the devil’s, the world’s, the one fashioned by your hand ...or the Lord’s?